There’s no doubt about it: Andrew B. Adler, the editor of the Atlanta Jewish Times, is a fool. His article advocating the assassination of President Obama has by now been broadcast all over the internet, and brought condemnation from every quarter down on his head. His tearful apologies, his denials that he actually meant to call for Obama’s death, and the swiftness with which major Jewish organizations distanced themselves from his crazed call are, perhaps, punishment enough for the poor man: I can’t help feeling sorry for him.
The Atlanta Jewish Times is not exactly the Forward: with a circulation of around 3,000, it is an obscure publication that carries news of the local Jewish community and is seemingly typical of the dozens of similar niche newspapers throughout the country – except, of course, for the views of its editor, which are by no means typical of the Jewish community. That being said, this incident underscores a phenomenon that has been largely overlooked until recently, and that is the extremism of a certain segment of the pro-Israel community. That this element is present in the Jewish community was acknowledged by none other than my old friend Abe Foxman, of the Anti-Defamation League, in his statement condemning Adler’s piece:
“There is absolutely no excuse, no justification, no rationalization for this kind of rhetoric. It doesn’t even belong in fiction. These are irresponsible and extremist words. It is outrageous and beyond the pale. An apology cannot possibly repair the damage.
“Irresponsible rhetoric metastasizes into more dangerous rhetoric. The ideas expressed in Mr. Adler’s column reflect some of the extremist rhetoric that unfortunately exists – even in some segments of our community – that maliciously labels President Obama as an ‘enemy of the Jewish people.’”
Foxman is right: there are indeed extremists among us who could easily be incited to act on Adler’s recommendation – and not all or even most of them are of the Jewish faith. We have millions of Christians in this country who have theological reasons for fanatically supporting the state of Israel, even over and above the interests of their own country – not that they would ever admit the possibility of any “daylight” between the nations. They are, to put it in popular parlance, “Israel-Firsters,” and proudly so.
Adler, for his part, appears to be at least a sympathizer of the Chabad movement, an international ultra-orthodox movement some of whose followers reportedly cheered the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist. I won’t get into their theological justification for such kookiness: suffice to say that Chabad has allied itself with the most extreme elements, including within Israel, with parties and politicians who call for the expulsion of all Arabs. Chabad of Georgia claims Adler is not a member, but this has to be taken with a very large grain of salt: after all, visitors to the web site of his newspaper are greeted by a promotion for the local Chabad organization.
Whether he is an official member, or merely a sympathizer, is a detail, however: the larger picture is that the scenario imagined by Adler in his piece reflects the all-too-familiar narrative put out there by our Israel-Firsters, and by the Netanyahu government, which is that Israel currently faces an “existential” crisis, the inevitable result of which will be a second Holocaust:
“You are Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. You are responsible for 7 million Israeli citizens who comprise the state of Israel. You wake up one morning, and the Israel Defense Forces’ military commander hands you a detailed report regarding what to expect during a major conflict with Hezbollah and Syria five years from today.
“The report states that Israel will come under fire from 15,000 rockets and missiles, and that casualties will be in the thousands. That’s thousands, not hundreds – thousands.
“Simultaneously, another IDF military commander strolls over while you are finishing your first cup of coffee and hands you a report that Iran has reached nuclear launch capabilities.
“If that’s not enough, an Israeli diplomat informs you that you cannot expect much help from the United States due to its newly implemented military budget and the administrations never ending “Alice in Wonderland” belief that diplomacy is the answer.
“To all the Netanyahus out there, what do you do?”
Adler has three suggestions: 1) “Order a pre-emptive strike against both Hezbollah and Hamas,” 2) “Go against Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s wishes that Israel take a lethal bullet in the name of preserving a healthy, worldwide economic climate, and order the destruction of Iran’s nuclear facilities at all costs”, and 3) “Give the go-ahead for U.S.-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel in order for the current vice president to take his place, and forcefully dictate that the United States’ policy includes its helping the Jewish state obliterate its enemies.”
Adler describes these actions as possible “options,” and you’ll note they aren’t mutually exclusive – although carrying out the third option, in tandem with numbers one and two, seems like overkill , if you’ll pardon the expression. Yes, but not to someone so imbued with apocalyptic urgency that he would seriously contemplate the third option. Because, you see, Israel’s very existence is imperiled: it’ faces an “existential threat.” Once you accept this premise, the idea that one could save the lives of millions of Israelis by sacrificing the life of one man – even if he is President of the United States – becomes all too plausible. True believers in the “existential threat” narrative would have every reason to not only entertain the prospect of assassinating a President they thought was anti-Israel – or even a secret Muslim – they would consider it a moral duty, whether they did it for religious reasons or out of a devotion to pure utilitarianism.
In Friday’s column I wrote about the case of the DC Five, the five bloggers for two liberal Washington think tanks who were reprimanded – and, in one case, fired – because they used the term “Israel Firster.” The same organizations – the American Jewish Committee, the ADL, etc. – that pounced on Adler had just finished jumping all over the DC Five for engaging in “toxic” and “classically anti-Semitic” discourse, promoting the “myth” of “dual loyalty” among Jewish-Americans and supporters of Israel more generally. James Kirchick, of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, claims to have traced the etymology of “Israel Firster” back to Willis Carto, the notorious anti-Semite who published The Spotlight newspaper: avid researcher Kirchick doesn’t even bother trying to prove the term originated with Carto (after all, how could one prove such a thing?): it’s enough for him that Carto’s obscure publication used terms like “Israel-Firster” and routinely hurled unfounded accusations of “dual loyalty” to make the entire subject off limits to the rest of us.
In answer to defenders of the DC Five who say their writings are being taken out of context, Kirchick argues they are encouraging “far right” anti-Semitic discourse taken straight from The Spotlight’s repertoire, and adds:
“As if there were ever a context, other than that of, say, Jonathan Pollard, in which it would be appropriate to label an American Jew an ‘Israel-firster’ or ‘dual loyalist.’”
I would ask Kirchick to read Adler’s article, and then revise his sweeping statement. Surely Adler qualifies as a bona fide “Israel-Firster”: he’s no Pollard, and he is very far from being an anomaly. Never mind his Jewishness: there are probably far more alleged Christians immersed in a similarly apocalyptic mindset who are just as likely to draw the same demented conclusions.
The leaders of pro-Israel groups who lined up demanding the purge of the DC Five, are in denial: if they doubt the existence of Israel-Firsters, let them read the words of an American citizen calmly contemplating the assassination of his own President – in the name of “saving” Israel.
Let them also begin to take some responsibility for Adler’s frame of mind: faithfully echoing the hysterical cries of the Netanyahu government, they have pushed the idea that Israel faces an “existential threat” from Iran against all available evidence. The chief persecutor of the DC Five, one Josh Block – a former AIPAC spokesman and longtime Democratic party operative – told Politico there is “no room” for “political rhetoric that is hostile to Israel, or suggests that Iran has no nuclear weapons program” in “mainstream Democratic party discourse.”
As our policymakers contemplate going to war with Iran, the Israel-Firsters among us want to stop the debate before it even begins. They want to police our language so as to make it impossible to even talk about the issue in terms of what serves America’s national interest.
I am struck by how much the War Party’s case for war with Iran resembles the “ticking time bomb” argument used to justify torture. Torture advocates routinely pose the question in the following terms: suppose you were confronted with the imminent destruction of New York City by a nuclear device, and your choice was either to torture the details of the plot out of a captive terrorist or allow the destruction of the city – which would you choose? This limns the scenario Adler presented to his readers, in which the “ticking time bomb” of a supposedly pending nuclear attack on Israel is prevented by the assassination of the President. Granted, it’s an extreme “solution” – but, hey, only an anti-Semite could possibly object.
The reality is quite different from the impending apocalypse projected by the Israel lobby, which Adler takes to its “logical” and thoroughly nutty conclusion. Bristling with weapons bought and paid for by you and I, its hundreds of nukes aimed straight at Tehran, the Jewish state has easily repelled repeated attempts by its neighbors to enforce the Palestinians’ claimed “right of return”: its military superiority is unquestioned. Our own National Intelligence Estimate informs us Tehran stopped trying to create a nuclear weapons program in 2003, and in spite of a relentless propaganda campaign no new evidence has been uncovered to convincingly show otherwise. Yet to listen to Israel’s leaders, and their amen corner in the US, one would think nuclear-tipped missiles are already hurtling toward Tel Aviv. By manufacturing this phony “existential threat,” the Israel lobby implicitly gave the green light to idiots like Adler, who take their cynical propaganda dead seriously.
Everyone was shocked by Adler’s article, but was anyone besides Kirchick, Foxman & Co. really surprised? In the context of the hysterics engaged in by Israel’s most vocal “defenders,” this was likely to happen sooner or later. Let us hope and pray no one is sufficiently “inspired” by their rhetoric to act out Adler’s prescription for Israel’s continued survival.